The use of the ball possession in football has always created a wide debate among professional and fans that want to impose a very idealized playing style that does not always work out. In fact, it does not work for most of the teams. Having the ball (with a plan) is one of the most difficult aspects of the game to control and also one of the most claimed ones, mostly between those who watch the games from the couch, but there are also multiple coaches whose view gets blur with an almost unreachable good. Cruyff already warned about this: “Football is simple, but it is difficult to play simple”. We are going to break down the myth of the possession.
“Football is simple, but it is difficult to play simple”
What is the possession for?
The answer is simple, but hard to assimilate for many. Possession is not useful at all if there are not players good enough to carry it out or if you do not know what to do with the ball. It is just as negative to obsess yourself with having the ball without the tools as to have them but not a clear idea of what to do with it. There are multiple examples for both cases and always a poor outcome. There is nothing worse in football than not knowing what your playing style is.
Sterile possession in LaLiga:
One of the most common discussions currently is the delicate health of LaLiga, as it is being highly doubted that the Spanish league is the best in the world if we compare it to the score production in other leagues around Europe. Moreover, ball possession stats from every team in LaLiga prove the poor outcome from having the ball. The club with the most possession is the FC Barcelona, which has a total of 64.3%. The lowest one, Cádiz, with a 32.6%. However, Cervera´s squad are 7th on the table (18 points) and Koeman´s are 8th (17 points). What is the ball possession for?
Cádiz just went up a few months ago and have already beaten Barcelona and Real Madrid in the first half of the season. They have registered a very similar percentage both at home and on the road (32 and 33,2%, respectively), but they have grabbed most of their point in away games (13). They recently beat Barça in their first win at home with only 18% of possession, but there is more: despite barely having the ball during the match, Cádiz created more scoring chances than Barça (4 vs 3), all of that without a high pressure but just waiting backwards on their own half. Cervera´s approach was about putting two lines of four players it with a short distance and as far as possible from Ledesma´s goal, which was very uncomfortable for a team like Barça who gathers more of their players in the middle. It is about knowing the game you are playing: Cádiz patiently awaited for Barça to make mistakes, as they are a total disaster defensively, and made the most out of two actions where Barça killed themselves in order to earn the three points.
Despite the unbeatable numbers in Cádiz at their return to the first division, not all have been compliments for Cervera, as he has also received some critics for his playing style. At the end of his meet versus Barcelona, he was asked for that issue and he replied with a very a clear and concise answer about ‘the myth of the possession’.
“Barcelona need the ball possession to win, we do not. In fact, having the ball is a problem for us many times. The ball possession is not something to be said, it is something to be done, and doing it is not easy”
Álvaro Cervera after their win against Barcelona
This game is a perfect reflect to prove that the ball possession is not everything, but it is not the only one at LaLiga. Granada is another example of knowing how to perform effectively without having the ball too much. 6th on the table and qualified for the Europa League first round with just a 42,8% of possession, the 5th lowest team on this aspect. However, is not about Cádiz and Granada succeeding for not having the ball, but for knowing that that is their ideal playing style. Real Sociedad is the opposite case, top of the table (Atlético still have a pending game) with a 56,7% of possession, the 4th with the most ball. Real Sociedad have top quality players to dominate the games and they do. Each team has their weapons.
Every playing style is legal:
Possession is not the only valid option. All of them are as far as players believe in it and get positive outcomes. Every approach is acceptable. The only thing criticable is to display a playing style without the capacity to do it, which is very common among the fans, but we need to make a deeper thought: What do you prefer, to try to play “well” and fall constantly, or to have a solid plan for each context that allows you to succeed in the long run? In the end, everyone wants to win and the ways for it are multiple.
Translated by Guillermo Bermejo.